John Wall’s contract extension is a risk the Wizards believe they have to take


Bring it on! (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

UPDATE 4:06 P.M.: Per an individual with knowledge of the situation, John Wall has signed a maximum contract extension worth approximately $80 million over five years. We’ll have more on this ASAP.

ORIGINAL POST:

The Washington Wizards remain hopeful that they can finalize a five-year extension worth roughly $80 million with point guard John Wall this week. The contract would represent the third-largest deal ever doled out in Wizards franchise history, behind previous deals for Gilbert Arenas (six years, $111 million) and Juwan Howard (seven years, $105 million).

Arenas was still recovering from a left knee injury but had also made three all-star teams when he signed his deal in 2008. Howard had just completed his first – and only – all-star season when he received the first nine-figure deal from the late Abe Pollin (after a controversial tussle with the Miami Heat).

Because Wall has never made an all-star team or all-NBA team and has won a total of 72 games in his first three seasons, the Wizards are paying him mostly for what they hope he will become instead of what he already is. Making such a large financial commitment to a less-proven commodity is a dangerous proposal but one several teams have made – and reaped the benefits.

NBA Finals MVPs Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Joe Johnson, Pau Gasol, Deron Williams, Zach Randolph, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen and Marc Gasol all signed maximum contract extensions before making their first all-star appearance. Last summer, Brook Lopez signed a max deal with Brooklyn and went on to make the all-star team and help the Nets reach the playoffs.

On the other hand, Eric Gordon — who is still waiting for his first all-star appearance — also signed a max deal last summer with New Orleans and struggled mightily as he dealt with injuries and a sour attitude. Rudy Gay never played up to the value of the max contract he signed with Memphis in 2010 and got traded to Toronto last February.

Wall produced at the level of an elite point guard in the final two months of last season but has yet to reach the same plane of the other NBA point guards with maximum deals – Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Williams.

But his value in comparison to other players in his looming tax bracket has more to do with his worth to the organization than his production to date. And Wall is one of just four players in NBA history to average at least 16.5 points, 7.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals through his first three seasons, joining an exclusive list that includes Paul, Magic Johnson and Damon Stoudamire.

Point guard has become the most talent-rich position in the NBA, but the Wizards wouldn’t be able to find another with the size, skill and athleticism of Wall. Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday and Ty Lawson all signed four-year deals worth less than $50 million last summer, but Wall has the benefit of being in a more enviable position as a franchise cornerstone and playing for a more desperate organization. Curry, Holiday and Lawson were all key pieces on quality teams at the time they signed. Wall is the centerpiece in Washington, based on how the team has been structured.

The Wizards have shown a relatively solid commitment to Wall from the moment owner Ted Leonsis opened the door of the black limo that delivered Wall to Verizon Center after the draft and declared, “This is how we roll.”

Using the same model that he has employed with the Washington Capitals, Leonsis has long desired to draft and develop his own stars with the Wizards while using free agency and trades as a means to accentuate the homegrown talent.

Wall’s value to the organization was all but set last season when a left knee injury forced him to miss the first 33 games and the Wizards were hopeless in his absence. In 49 games, Wall led the team to 24 wins — which was nearly five times the Wizards’ victory total as he watched, painfully, from the sideline.

At 22, Wall is still a few years removed from entering his prime and made dramatic improvements after finally regaining his strength and confidence after missing three months of action. He is already developing a decent chemistry with fellow building block Bradley Beal, whose talent could eventually warrant a massive extension in the summer of 2015 if he can continue to progress — and get healthy.

The Wizards certainly have the leverage to force Wall to play out the season and become a restricted free agent next summer. And if Wall chose to sign a contract elsewhere, the Wizards would have the power to match any deal and retain his rights.

But they could also risk upsetting Wall, who already declared that he would be “hurt” if he didn’t receive a maximum contract and was forced to hit the open market next summer. By letting the situation play out during the regular season, the Wizards could either have a motivated Wall playing to prove a point or a dejected Wall sulking through the final season in which President Ernie Grunfeld, Coach Randy Wittman and their respective staffs are under contract.

Giving Wall the security that he desires places the burden on him to produce, especially after the organization has finally surrounded Wall with the competent big men (Nene, Emeka Okafor), capable shooters (Bradley Beal, Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza) and another talented, do-it-all perimeter player (Otto Porter).

Wall’s development was somewhat stunted through his first two seasons as the Wizards struggled to find the right complementary parts. He played with physically deteriorating veterans in Arenas, Rashard Lewis and Josh Howard and unpolished and often unfocused talents in Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young. He has also dealt with injuries to his knees and feet which forced him to miss 13 games as a rookie. Overcoming the stress injury to have some success last season has given Wall more optimism about the obstacles that he will be forced to face going forward.

“I think it just made me mentally tougher as a basketball player and a person period and going through so much adversity,” Wall said. I had setback after setback. “That was tough for me but I just had to keep fighting. Finally I came back healthy and did what I had to do.”

Now Wall has a team that he believes is built for the postseason. He has already stated that he’s “ready” to handle the responsibilities that come with signing such a large contract.

The contracts for Arenas and Howard didn’t work out well for the organization. Arenas was traded within the third year of his deal and is already out of the NBA as he gets the final $23 million of that agreement this season. The Wizards were desperate to escape the Howard contract soon after it was signed and finally found a taker five years later.

If Wall doesn’t fulfill the expectations of his draft position or his lucrative contract, the Wizards’ efforts to end five years of hideosity could be severely set back. But the contract merely supports the franchise’s rebuilding efforts since it lucked into selecting Wall with the first pick of the 2010 NBA draft.

This is the direction the franchise has chosen and it will be up to Wall to make that decision worthwhile.

MORE FROM THE POST ON JOHN WALL

Wall confident that he can live up to expectations.

Wall faces tough climb for Team USA.

Wall humbled by chance to play for Team USA.

Wall: “I need to be in the playoffs”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · July 26, 2013